Friday September 7, 2012

PITTSFIELD

A friend of mine was lamenting sending her young son off to school the other day, and my Facebook wall is peppered with similar sentiments. It reminded me of my first day of school.

I recall my mother taking me shopping at Zayre’s for new clothes one day. But only me, not my younger sisters. I was a bit confused and asked her why we were doing this.

"Well, you’re going to kindergarten next week, and you need a new outfit," she said.

Kindergarten, I thought. Great. What is it and where is it?

My mother explained that it was a place where I learned things. And the school wasn’t too far from home, just around the corner on Commercial Street.

Well, I was OK with starting my education. Hey, I wasn’t getting any younger!

But Commercial Street? Really? Who did I look like, Ferdinand Magellan? My world view at 5 years old was maybe a tad more expanded than the ants on my front lawn on Glen Street. I had no idea where Commercial Street was. I’m not even sure I knew, at the time, that we lived on a road called "Glen Street."

Anyway, my father addressed that. He drove me to school the first few days and I realized that Commercial Street was indeed just around the corner from Glen Street. And Commercial Street School wasn’t that far, either.

Back to the clothes. I still have pictures of that fateful day. Looking back, I can only deduce that my mother was from the "Boy Named Sue" category of clothing strategy. I had on a starched white shirt, pressed black pants, shiny black shoes and one of those clip-on "kids ties" that only extended about a third of the way down my little boy chest.

So I assume my mother dressed me so because she anticipated that she wouldn’t be able to protect me. The bullies would laugh, and I’d be forced to defend myself. That’s not actually what happened, as I was one of the more affable kids in the town of Adams. But I wish I had had the sense to at least lose the tie.

After the first week, I walked to school. Alone. I was the oldest of what would eventually be five kids, and my mother admitted years later that she spent a lot of time reading those child-rearing books written by Dr. Benjamin Spock. As did a lot of folks in America in the 1960s.

Anyway, Dr. Spock suggested that parents allow kids to walk to school and not to be overly protective. Yeah, well, that might have been cool in theory, but I distinctly remember some brutally cold mornings walking to school as the wind whipped at my face like a leather strap. Thanks, doc.

And of course my mother also admitted that for the first month or so, every time I set out, she’d rush to the bathroom and throw up from worry.

So I got there that first day, and the Old Man told me to take a seat and he’d be back for me in a little while. Hey, fine. I took a seat. And looked around. Utter chaos. Kids were crying and howling. Very Inferno-esque, if I recall correctly.

Except one guy. This kid who sat behind me was pretty calm about the whole thing. He was just kind of watching the whole thing unfold. To be honest, he calmed me down, too. His name was Dave Carlow, and he was, in fact, the first person I ever befriended in kindergarten. We’re still friends.

Also, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Scott, clearly also knew the drill. She got everyone calmed down, talked to us a bit, and read us a story. By the end of the morning, all was well.

When it was over, my father picked me up and brought me home. My mother had my favorite lunch ready: a chicken sandwich on Wonder Bread with mayonnaise and a large chocolate milk. I still eat that from time to time, only wheat bread instead of Wonder Bread. It’s still good.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staff writer. Follow him on Twitter, @DerekGentile.